Fairfax had a few firsts earlier this month. In addition to being , it was also the first Marin municipality to formally agree to keep up with Brown Act, even though the state mandate was suspended this summer.
“For us, the reality is we want to operate as a transparent government,” Fairfax Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero told Patch.
In June, the state legislature OK’d a three-year suspension of the Brown Act mandate, which requires local jurisdictions—cities, counties, water districts and special districts—post meeting agendas for the public at least 72 hours before a meeting. The suspension also allows local jurisdictions to forgo reporting to the public about actions taken during closed-session meetings.
On Aug. 1, the Fairfax council unanimously adopted a resolution to continue to comply with the Brown Act.
“That resolution was our way of saying that while the state no longer requires it or funds it, we will continue to abide by the Brown Act so we can provide our citizens with information and they can be part of the process,” Hartwell-Herrero said.
The Fairfax council’s staff report outlined other elements of the Brown Act:
- Including a brief description of all items to be discussed in closed session on an agenda.
- Disclosing each item to be discussed in closed session in an open meeting, prior to any closed session.
- Providing public copies of certain closed session documents.
Officials from other Marin towns have expressed a similar desire to keep up with the Brown Act, according to the Marin Independent Journal. The Novato City Council will consider a similar resolution on Aug. 21 and San Rafael’s Assist City Manager Jim Schutz told the IJ the city will continue to comply with the Brown Act requirements.
The mandate's suspension does not affect school districts,
BROWN ACT SUSPENSION TO SAVE THE STATE MONEY
How the state came to the decision of suspending the Brown Act mandates boiled down to one thing: money. In California, mandates placed on local jurisdictions by Sacramento must be funded by the state. In the case of the Brown Act mandates, the state was subsidizing nearly $100 million a year by some estimates.
So in an effort to cut expenditures, the state decided to suspend the mandates.
Hartwell-Herrero said Fairfax hadn’t received any state funds for complying with the Brown Act in more than five years.
According to watchdog Californians Aware—a group that tries to foster improvement of, compliance with and public understanding and use of, public forum law, which deals with what rights citizens have to know what is going in in government— some local jurisdictions learned how to milk the system.
They “could get a windfall of cash for doing something they had always done: preparing and posting meeting agendas for their governing and other bodies as mandated by Brown Act amendments passed in 1986—but as, in fact, routinely done anyway since time immemorial to satisfy practical and political expectations,” the nonprofit reported earlier this summer.
In July, Californians Aware launched a petition drive to amend the California constitution to ensure that municipal meeting agendas continue to be offered to the public.
"Even though the law might not hold public officials accountable for no longer posting agendas or providing adequate descriptions of items on them, angry voters would hold them accountable, and political exposure has always been a far more powerful motivator of Brown Act compliance than legal exposure," stated Californians Aware on its website.
There is also a bill that would preserve the Brown Act provisions, but it remains in limbo in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after the state Senate passed it.